Of course, this is a PR gimmick in the most traditional sense of the term. Most season ticket holders get their tickets in the mail, or they pick them up. And when the players deliver the tickets, it’s usually with news cameras and reporters in tow.
By definition, a PR gimmick is a contrived event to garner some publicity of public attention. But not all PR gimmicks are so contrived that they are phony and therefore ineffective.
The Penguins appear to have managed this delicate balance quite well. Here are some reasons why it works:
· The stars are not exempt. Sidney Crosby is the star of the Pittsburgh Penguins, the team captain, and arguably, one of the marquee faces of the game of hockey. Yet, he took the time this past week to personally deliver Sandy Darling’s season tickets to him and his family. He spent over a half-hour in Mr. Darling’s basement game room, which is decorated like a mini-shrine to Penguins hockey. After the hockey player left their house, the Darling family told the press they liked the star even more.
· Many players get involved. This week, 14 active Penguin players canvassed the region delivering tickets. The volume of players ensures maximum impact and creates the perception that the Penguins are engaged with their fans because, well, they are.
· Most other teams wouldn’t think of this. The Penguins have instituted this tradition in an era where professional sports athletes are known more for luxury lifestyles than for connecting with the common fan. The media and the culture surrounding some athletes insulate them from regular people. This ticket delivery practice bucks this trend to positive result.
· Timing is everything. The players deliver the tickets right before the start of training camp, heightening interest in hockey just as the Steelers begin regular season and the Pittsburgh Pirates make a run at the playoffs. This helps keep hockey relevant when it could easily be overlooked.
If this were an isolated instance, perhaps it wouldn’t be as effective. But during the course of a season, Sidney Crosby alone is known to give needy or sick kids tickets to games. And he has made countless visits to hospitals and charitable organizations. He does so, so extensively that if it were disingenuous that would come through. Many other Penguins players do the same, sometimes to fanfare, but quite often in quiet. Yet, Pittsburgh is still a small enough town that word gets out.
On the ice, the Penguins brand speaks for itself. Off the ice, the organization has carefully nurtured a brand that presents its players as “one of us,” successful pro athletes who haven’t forgotten where they came from. And above all, they haven’t forgotten the fan. That philosophy has served them well. Because it’s real.
And that is why this is one PR gimmick that works.
Here's a news report of Sidney Crosby delivering tickets a couple of years ago: